Monday, April 21, 2014

How to Write a Story, Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

I read this book because my son left it lying around the house. What started as a placebo to boredom quickly became an obsession because of sentences like this: we were destined to live through something and the thing we were meant to live through was designed to change us. The point of a story is the character arc, the change.
Here are a few of my favorite Donald Miller quotes:
Once I understood the power of story in my personal life, I wanted to create a good one.
A character IS what he DOES.
The second you stand up and point toward a horizon, you realize how much there is to lose.
It made me wonder if the reasons our lives seem so muddled is because we keep walking into scenes in we, along with the people around us, have no clear idea of what we want.
There is no conflict man can endure that will not produce a blessing.
You can’t build an end scene as beautiful as this by sitting on a couch.
A really good story circles back. The narrative begins with a flawed character who passes through conflict until he/she is changed. Near the end, our character faces a conflict similar to one they faced in the beginning of the story which they had failed, but this time, because of what they have learned, they overcome. It’s the stuff of fairytales.
Real life is rarely spelled out as simply. But sometimes it is. More than twenty years I served in a relief society presidency. One morning, our presidency met with the stake relief society presidency and I was shocked to learn that a member of the stake presidency had just come from the high school where her son had been involved in a car accident.
At the time I had four very young children, and I thought something like this—How horrible. She should be with her son. She should not be at this meeting, discussing the needs of the women in our ward, she should be with her son. If it my son had been in an accident, I would be with him. I would be much too upset to sit in this meeting.
Fast forward to about a year ago. I’m serving in a stake relief society presidency. The morning I am supposed to be in a meeting with a ward relief society presidency I get a call from my teenage daughters. On their way to school they were rear-ended. A car hit another car which then plowed into our Suburban. My girls and car were fine, but the middle car had been completely totaled. I answered the insurance questions, made sure my girls had an excuse for tardiness and then, as they went to school, I went to my meeting.
It was while I was sitting in my meeting that I realized I had come full circle. Had my daughters been better mothered if I had gone to the school, whisked them to the doctor, or out to breakfast? No. Because they were fine. They had classes to attend, papers to write and tests to take. Just like I had a meeting to attend. Things to do. Real life is about the things we do. In Don Miller’s words, A character IS what he DOES.
We all have to spend our lives doing something. The most important thing, then, is to do something worth our time.

Understand the power of story in our personal lives and  create a good one.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

How to Write Reviews

Authors need reviews. We need to know that our time behind the computer screen matters. A good review is like warm, gooey chocolate—savored and enjoyed. A poor review is like a water balloon to the face—it hits like a rock and soaks you with chills from head to toe. You might dry quickly, but it’s hard to forget.
That’s why, personally, I never give less than a four star review. I know how hard it is to write a book. I know how long it takes. I understand the dedication and discipline.
I think of the star ratings as a report card.
5 stars an A
4 stars a B
3 stars a C
And so forth.
If I think a book is less than a 4 star, I keep those thoughts to myself.  Unless I really hated the book, then I might spout off.  I think I’ve done that once. If I find mistakes, but still enjoyed the story, I will find a way to let the author know, because I know how easy it is to fix mistakes.
As a reader, I don’t believe that an author owes me a thing. This is especially true in today’s world of free, or nearly free, books. Every story is a gift that someone took the time to share. If I wanted to be a part, I stayed to read. If not, I put the book down.  Life is too short to waste time reading something I don't love.

For some, writing a review is hard, and for those who struggle, here are a few basic templates. Fill in the blanks.

For a romance:
I _____ (loved, liked, enjoyed, relished, adored, savored) this story. I found the hero ______ (scrumptious, delish,  yummy.) And the main character was ______ (delightful, brave, heroic, charming.) The plot kept me _____ (riveted, captivated, enthralled.) I found the dialogue ____ (witty, entertaining, heartwarming.) I thought I would swoon when______. And I was sad, but happy, when it was over.

For a mystery:
This story kept me _____ (on the edge of my seat, awake all night, captivated.) I thought the main character was _____ (resourceful, clever, ingenious.) The plot twists kept me ______ (in constant suspense, tied up in knots, in a sweat.) And when I close my eyes, I imagine the villain _____ (coming at me with a knife, lurking in dark corners, leering at me from the shadows.) I love it when the good guys win!

For a fantasy:
I found this world to be _____ (totally believable, fascinating, mesmerizing.) I loved the ______ (magical, legendary, mythical) characters and their quest for the_____ (mysterious, elusive, fabled) ______.

For a literary novel:
I found this story _____ (haunting, heartbreaking, inspiring.) The message stayed with me for days and colored my perspective in new and _____ (life-affirming, provocative, meaningful) ways. Because of this book, I now see life ______(differently, with a fresh mind set, with more compassion.)

The literati take reviews very seriously, but you are free to _____ (extoll, laud, praise, applaud.) 
Or not.

Here are snippets of three of my favorite reviews:
5.0 out of 5 stars
I read this through the night. As I read kept reading, I lost all track of time and only resurfaced at the end. I can't wait to see more adventures from this set of characters. Well done!
This review is from: On Beyond the Fortuneteller’s Tent (The Beyond series)

5.0 out of 5 stars Thrilling and fun historical romance
I thoroughly enjoyed Ms.Tate's book. From the very start I was held spellbound by Mercy's adventures. From beginning to end I was captivated by the suspense and romance.
This review is from: Stealing Mercy (Seattle Fire series)

5.0 out of 5 stars fast becoming an author for me to watch for in the contemporary mystery genre
In the second book that I have read from this author, she is fast becoming an author for me to watch for in the contemporary mystery genre. The Rhyme's Library is a clever murder mystery, rife with family and small-town secrets and an engaging, intelligent heroine at its center.
From The Rhyme’s Library
Buy now:

Monday, April 14, 2014

Popular Blog Posts, exposing the underbelly of my blog

It’s curious why some posts are more interesting to the world than others. Some posts I think are quite good are basically ignored while others that are neither insightful or witty for some inexplicable reason pick up traction. Here are the top five most viewed posts on my blog,

Sep 16, 2011, 19 comments
2380 page views
Aug 8, 2013, 3 comments
2119 page views
May 10, 2013, 3 comments
1929 page views
Sep 24, 2012, 5 comments
1258 page views
May 1, 2013, 1 comment
998 page views

And the audience! For awhile I had a host of Russians reading my blog. Vlads and Omars were leaving comments. I personally don’t know anyone currently living in Russia, nor do I know any Vlads or Omars, and I don’t know why the Russians would be more interested in my blog than the Belgians. Here are the stats from the top five countries that follow my blog.
United States




United Kingdom

It’s not surprising that the posts that are the most helpful are also the most popular….That might be a good life lesson, as well. If you want to be popular, be helpful. That's something everyone should learn in grade school.
In an effort to be increasingly helpful, for the next three months, I’m donating all of the proceeds from my Rose Arbor books to the Oso Relief fund. Oso is a tiny community on the outskirts of my home town, Arlington, Washington, the fictionalized setting of my Rose Arbor books. (Read my blog post on my decision. And to make donating easy, for a limited time A Ghost of a Second Chance, the first in the series is now only .99 cents.
Because, as my mom used to say, when you’re helping you’re happy. And I'm more than happy to help the victims of the Oso mudslide.
Click on photo for purchasing link.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

New Book Covers

I spent the weekend with my amazingly talented daughter and came home with three new book covers. I LOVE them. What do you think?
Stuck With You, is a novella loosely based on my adventures in a sticky elevator. The models are my son and his fiance. I love them and this cover. And the story, of course. The story has been done for a few weeks, but it won't be published until June.
This is Hailey's third cover. I think we finally got one I love.
Beyond the Pale is the final book in my Beyond series. It has caused me some grief (the story, not the cover. LOVE the cover.) I made an outline, wrote the story and ended at about 100 pages--200 pages short of my typical novel length. There is a part of me that wants to give the series the time and attention it deserves, but I have so much happening in my real, non-fiction life, I had a hard time thinking outside of my original outline.

 I managed to write another 50 pages, debated on whether to set it aside and work on something else or call it good. After much internal arguing and screaming, I decided to end it. At 150 pages it was done. So what. Who cares? It was done and so was I. Determined to give it one last go-through, I picked it up this morning and as I read ideas and scenes came to me. I don't know, actually I doubt, if it will carry me to page 300, but it doesn't matter. I do love this story, after all. Somehow I had forgotten that. I'm so grateful I got to be the one to write it.

Also, I'm pretty sure that every author and every publisher wishes that they had an amazingly talented daughter like mine.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Twenty Books, .99 Cents Each

For a limited time, the books listed below will be available on Amazon at 99 cents. Twenty books for less than $20.  Books of all flavors: mystery, adventure, fantasy, romance, Young Adult, paranormal, women’s fiction, historical, and western, including the first book in my Beyond series, Beyond the Fortuneteller's Tent, a teen time travel romance. 
My book has been bobbing off and on Amazon’s Bestseller list. Currently:
#64 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Teen & Young Adult > Science Fiction & Fantasy > Science Fiction > Time Travel
#82 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Teen & Young Adult > Romance > Historical
Now only .99 cents

Kathy Bennett, A Deadly Justice
Dee Ann Palmer, Where Eagles Cry
Linda Carroll-Bradd, Capturing The Marshal’s Heart
Mindy Neff, The Bad Boy Next Door
Susan Squires, Waiting for Magic?
Sandra Paul, Last Chance for Marriage
Patricia Thayer, Colton Creek Cowboy
Kathleen Creighton, The Prince and the Patriot
Susan R. Hughes, A Baby for Christmas
Gillian Doyle, Mystic Memories
Edie Ramer, Christmas at Angel Lake
Angie Ray, Ghostly Enchantment
Jacqueline Diamond, The Cowboy and The Heiress
Michelle Knowlden, Indelible Beats
Kristy Tate, Beyond the Fortuneteller’s Tent
Michael H. Payne, A Curial Quartet
Heather MacAllister, Counterfeit Cowgirl
Louella Nelson, Cora Lee
Kitty Bucholtz, Little Miss Lovesick
Lyn O’Farrell, Worth the Risk

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Books for Oso Relief

This is the clock on Main Street next to the town green.

The Oso mud slide hit close to home. I grew up in Arlington. My dad and brother still live there, and both of my brothers own and operate businesses there. The school across the street from my dad’s house, is now serving as the command center for the rescue teams.
These are the deer that come to my dad's garden every morning.

So, I know something of Oso, a tiny community a few miles north of my brother’s house. If the slide had hit my brother’s home, he would have lost not only his home, but also the staples of his fishing business: boats, rods and reels, computers. If my dad’s house had been hit when my dad still owned his construction company, my dad would have lost not only his house, but also his dump trucks, bulldozer and excavator. I’m guessing that in Oso there were also mechanics with garages full of machinery, carpenters with costly tools for their trade, and an assortment of cows, horses, goats, sheep, chickens, dogs and cats.
This is a picture of the mud slide.

Growing up, my dad’s garden was bigger than my Orange County, California backyard. And gardening wasn’t a hobby, nor was it about being organic. My parents gardened and canned our food to feed our family. I wonder what will the land be like when, and if, it’s ever unearthed. What will be left?

I know that the families in Oso have lost much more than homes and property. And what and who they have lost can’t be quantified.

I love my home town. I’m grateful I grew up there. My Rose Arbor novel series is set in Arlington, although I did change the name. Locals will recognize a few of the town's landmarks and street names. They will also realize I took a lot of liberties. For example, the library is not on Olympic Hill. And my apologies to whomever owns 22 Cobb. When I wrote the books, I never thought I would offer them up for a cause. But that’s what I’m doing.

For the next three months, I will donate all of the net proceeds of the sales of my Rose Arbor books to the Oso Relief fund. A hundred percent of the donations go directly to the Oso families. (You can read about the fund here, and if you wish, make a donation.) I even dropped the price of the first book in the series,  A Ghost of a Second Chance, to .99 cents, making the opportunity to give within (almost) everyone’s reach.

When the idea was first suggested to me, I felt uncomfortable about using a tragedy to promote my books. But I soon realized that this is a way I can give much more than I could on my own. Please share.